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Three-dimensional digital models of geological objects are relatively easy to create and geolocate on virtual globes such as Google Earth and Cesium. Emerging technologies allow the design of realistic virtual rocks with free or inexpensive software, relatively inexpensive 3D scanners and printers, and smartphone cameras linked to point-cloud computing services. There are opportunities for enhanced online courses, remote supervision of fieldwork, remote research collaboration, and citizen-science projects, and there are implications for archiving, peer-review, and inclusive access to specimens from inaccessible sites. Virtual rocks can be gradually altered to illustrate geological processes such as weathering, deformation, and metamorphic mineral growth. This paper surveys applications in a wide range of geoscience subdisciplines and includes downloadable examples. Detailed instructions are provided in the GSA Supplemental Data Repository1.
Manuscript received 29 June 2015; accepted 7 March 2016
1 GSA Supplemental Data Repository Item 2016173, detailing techniques for creating virtual specimens along with figure animations, is online. If you have questions, please contact GSA Today, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, CO 80301-9140, USA; email@example.com.